"I held an audition to cast some human actors in the show, and these two really pushy little puppets turned up and wouldn’t leave," says Sunny Drake of his Summerworks show X. "I have little control over them – they made up a lot of the story and drag me around the stage in service of their latest whims. Anyone who’s worked with puppets before will know that I’m pretty much serious. Also, the show explores what could otherwise be a kind of heavy topic – addiction (sex, alcohol etc). The puppets really help to delve into the topic in a way that is entertaining and fun and magical - they sneakily get the audience to go there with hard content because they’re entertained and having fun."
The pushy puppets and Drake inhabit a technologically lush and compelling environment created especially for X. "The puppetry and stop motion animation are so highly integrated," he explains, "that the live puppets slip inside the set and become animated and vice versa. This was definitely a lot of work. The animation by ingrid k brooker is seriously stunning. Her animation in the show took over 14,000 photographs."
As usual the SummerWorks Performance Festival is full of gay content but this year there is a slight emphasis on trans-created and trans issue works. "I think that transmen have become very fashionable and are celebrated in many areas of queer communities and beyond," says Drake, "although it's still not the easiest to get laid within non-trans gay men's circles. My trans identity is super important to my performance work, as is my queer identity, although I tend not to focus much on trans 101 type of topics anymore. I'm more interested in exploring the complexities and nuances of being trans and also queer, including all the other areas of our lives like relationships, substance use, the ways we love, our families etc. But complex topics doesn't mean academic or abstract. It's very important to me that my work is accessible to people who may not have fancy political language. That's where story is awesome- communicating stuff in a way that people can understand and relate to. I want people to have a super fun night out, enjoy the magic of the show and allow themselves to go deeply into the content and reflect on addiction in our community. I want the show to be healing and to destigmatize addiction. I want people to feel less shame and therefore talk with each other about what's going on in their own lives. Thankfully, this is exactly the response I'm getting."
X was a sellout in San Francisco and the enthusiasm was almost overwhelming for Drake. "I've gotten a heap of emails from people pouring out their most tender, vulnerable secrets about their addictions or those of their loved ones. This is such a huge honour," says Drake. "Whilst I'm happy for non-queer people to come to my show - and they seem to really enjoy it - ideally, this show is for people on the LGBTIQ spectrum. Many of us don't get to see our own stories reflected back to us in mainstream media, books, films etc. So, I make work that contributes to conversations within our communities and allows people to experience a slice of their world onstage so that we can laugh and cry at our experiences."